Keen to prolong our short visit to Thailand by as long as possible, we stopped in the border town of Nong Khai before we headed on to Laos. Nong Khai is a small market town that sits on the banks of Asia’s ever-present Mekong river in Thailand’s North East region. Our home for the next two nights was the lovely Mut Mee guest house, which sat right on the river bank and looked over into Laos. Room E, where we stayed, was easily the most stunning and luxurious we’ve stayed in since the L Hotel back in Bali.
Nong Khai is an easy overnight train from Bangkok; we set off on the 20:18 train and arrived at 7:30 the following morning reasonably refreshed and headed straight for a coffee and some breakfast at Mut Mee’s serene riverside terrace as soon as we were off the train.
The town is a fairly sleepy little one, and was noticeably cooler than the searing, relentless heat of Cambodia! It felt strange to need hoodies and socks again after they’d been sitting at the bottom of our rucksacks for three weeks. After a busy few days of temples and travelling, we enjoyed sitting on the quiet terrace, eating delicious Thai curries and watching as the monks walked past in the early evening.
Evenings weren’t especially lively or boozy. We walked along the river bank, watching local Thai women gather for their evening dance class – line dancing appears to be having a moment in Thailand – and taking in the beautiful sunsets shared between Thailand and Laos.
The following day, we hired rickety bikes from Mut Mee and set off to visit Salakaewkoo – the famous Nong Khai sculpture park. Filled to the brim with ornate concrete sculptures – some towering up to 25 metres tall – the painstaking detail of each work of art is down to the vision of the artist – Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.
There are many fascinating sculptures (the seven headed snake with protruding forked tongues is particularly striking) but the centerpiece has to be the famous Wheel of Life, which represents the Buddhist concept of the karmic cycle from birth to death. It’s an immersive work – you enter the sculpture via an, um, giant birth canal and then walk clockwise among sculptures depicting each stage of life. It is fascinating and absorbing.
As we cycled back from the park to Mut Mee, we were joined by a group of three local boys who – donned in their finest Premier League football shirts – wanted photos with us. We were happy to oblige – it’s nice to meet friendly locals when you are out and about!
By the time we were ready to head to Laos, we felt fully relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to go. Mut Mee must have that effect on people.